British people don't like seafood. Fact.
Sure they like their Fish and Chips and there's nothing wrong with that - for at least one Hermano this would be their last meal of choice - but put, say, a whole fish in front of someone and there would be two possible reactions: "What's that ?" or "Take it away, take it away - it's looking at me !" The reaction in Spain or France or Italy would be "yum".
Coast is a newish restaurant which promises to bring a taste of the seaside, Cornwall in this case to the grotty environs of NW1. It has an all-white interior which is not a good sign - I can't remember a good meal in a white restaurant - and has some suitably sea-related doodlings on the walls. There's a big chiller cabinet running the length of the room which makes it look something like an Estate Agents. Not unusual given that Estate Agents nowadays look something like bar/restaurants.
For a fish restaurant the menu didn't really convince and had us desperately searching for something which appealed. "FROM THE GRILL" was mostly meat. The one whole fish option, Bream, was in fact fried which didn't sound very appetising. Maybe this is why things are described as pan-fried. So much less prosaic.
Prosaic was also the password of the day when it came to our starters. Fishcake came looking like a Scotch Egg and had been deep fried. The crust was thin and crisp and not bad but the filling was underseasoned and all, er, filler. The Cucumber and Fennel salad was a bit limp and if there was any sorrel in the sauce, well, you can call me Uncle Jaap.
Fish Soup tasted mostly of Fennel and very little of fish. The accompanying Rouille was underpowered and too polite. Like the Fish Cake these were dishes that would turn up at your average credit crunch dinner party (Background music: Lady Eleanor. Topics of conversation: House Prices, Crime, Swine Flu. Husband Says: "It really is amazing how far Marjorie can make a little bit of Salmon stretch.")
An odd smell heralded our main courses. Not from HS's Fish Pie which like his Fish Soup seemed pretty bereft of any piscine components (undemanding, polite, harmless – take your pick).
No, the pong seemed to be coming from the chunks of Chorizo which had been mixed with my Mussels. They were just inappropriate in this context but HS thought something was off. Any way, I lived.
The Chorizo had leeched its oil making an unpleasant slick on top of the cider cream liquor. Not a sauce you wanted to mop up greedily with lots of bread. The Mussels were fine even if the serving was parsimonious. Chips were lukewarm and were of the dreaded “skin-on” variety, beloved of lazy kitchens everywhere. As traduced versions of classic British and Belgium dishes go, these two were well up there.
At this point exit visas were imminent but turning down HS’s suggestion to wander up to Marine Ices – the walk up Camden High Street would have been like heaping humiliation upon humiliation – I decided to try out Coast’s homemade ice creams. And whaddya know ? They were great – good texture and great taste especially the Raspberry Ripple. So good in fact I wondered if they were in fact homemade. But as the waitress at High Timer so philosophically put it: “they are homemade – but not made here”
By the time we’d settled up and left the place was filling up with groups of happy locals. So obviously Coast is fulfilling some gap in the local restaurant market. On the way home we wondered what it could be. Suddenly the lightbulb dangling over HS switched on: “it’s a Fish Restaurant for people who don’t like fish” he said. Given that British people don't like seafood our meal now made perfect sense.